A New Year’s Eve blizzard arrived on the winds of introspection.
At least it did for me. If you feed livestock, chances are good you were too cold and tired to be introspective over the changing of the calendar.
But if, like me, you only take care of critters that live indoors, the blowing snow and bitter cold may have kept you at home for much of the new year’s celebrations. If so, your thoughts might have strayed toward what you would like to see in 2019.
I know mine did.
After an early dinner with good friends on Dec. 31, my family and I returned home. Before long, everyone was in bed except me. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge says in “Frost at Midnight,” one of my favorite poems, “The inmates of my cottage, all at rest, have left me to that solitude, which suits abstruser musings ….”
In the poem, Coleridge writes of his hopes for his child, and that night I was thinking about my hopes for all of us in the year to come.
Mostly, I hope that we can summon the courage to treat one another with greater kindness.
Our country grew darker in 2018, as evidenced by the tenor of the national debate and certainly by the large number of high-profile mass shootings. Last year saw the highest number of school shooting incidents in the U.S. within a single year. Yet, the shootings weren’t confined to school grounds — we also saw horrific attacks on a synagogue and a newspaper.
Not only are we attacking places of education, we’re also attacking sources of information and places of worship. Education, information, religion: Three sources of light in our world under attack.
While each of these tragedies was committed by different individuals, each with their own different motivations, it certainly feels like the foundations of our great country are under attack by our own darker impulses.
If we are going to change our country, we must begin by changing ourselves.
I am convinced that everyone should make a resolution to try to understand and empathize with people of different circumstances, nationalities, races, sexual preferences, gender identities, religions, income levels and political beliefs. When we look at our neighbors, whether they be liberal or conservative, citizen or immigrant, employed or unemployed, white or minority, rich or poor, we should not be seeing enemies. Instead, we should see people just like us, trying to figure out how to make it in this world, dealing with their own challenges, trying to make the best decisions they can. We should see people who deserve the chance to live and return to their homes in safety each night without fear.
If we start to demand of ourselves compassion for others, I am convinced we will, slowly but surely, find ourselves living in a more just and prosperous society.
The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote in a New Year’s Day letter to his wife, “And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it without letting fall too much of what it has to bestow upon those who demand of it necessary, serious, and great things.”
Let’s demand of our year serious and great things. Let’s begin right now, with purpose and compassion in our hearts, to create a country and a world full of things that have never been.